The Santa Rosa Plateau’s Sylvan Meadows Multi-Use Area is open to all non-motorized means of travel — hiking, jogging, biking, and horseback riding — with the stipulation that all users stay on the designated roads and trails. (Dogs, however, are not allowed at all.) The comprehensive tour of the whole Sylvan Meadows area, described here, includes an out-and-back side trip into Stevenson Canyon that would seem to be superfluous, but should not be missed. Late March through April is best for wildflowers at the nearly 2000-foot elevation of Sylvan Meadows, so don’t forget to bring a camera.
Getting to the trailhead from San Diego is fast and direct using Interstate 15. Exit Interstate 15 at Clinton Keith Road in Murrieta, just north of Temecula. Proceed south on Clinton Keith Road five miles to the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve visitor center, on the left, where you’ll find plenty of space for parking.
From the visitor center parking lot, cross to the west side of Clinton Keith Road and descend 0.1 mile to a trail junction in a shady ravine. Turn right on the Tovashal Trail (Torino Trail ahead is your return route). After proceeding 0.8 mile up through and eventually out of the shallow ravine, you come to the next junction, Sylvan Meadows Road, on the north edge of an expansive, oak-dotted meadow. This is a part of the roughly 3000 acres of “bunchgrass prairie” in the reserve that is regarded as the finest example of native grassland habitat in California. Ongoing prescribed fires and selective removal of nonnative grasses in meadows such as this one are encouraging the growth of natives such as purple needlegrass, malpais blue grass, and deergrass.
Make a right on Sylvan Meadows Road, continue 0.5 mile along the rim of the meadow, and then begin the highly recommended side trip: Turn right on the Shivela Trail, continue 0.4 mile, then go right again on the Stevenson Canyon Trail. The trail loops, so you can go up along the brushy slope east of the canyon, and back down on a single-track pathway down through the canyon bottom itself. This latter trail segment is arguably the most enchanting passage in the entire reserve, with inky shadows, a gallery of twisted oak limbs, a trickling stream (in season at least), and luminescent greenery everywhere. Mountain bikers may breeze through here without warning, so those on foot should be alert.
Retrace your steps on Shivela Trail, and then use Sylvan Meadows Road to reach Hidden Valley Trailhead (restrooms are here but no water is available). Now, head east, more or less along the north-side fenceline of Tenaja Road, first on Nighthawk Trail and then on Mortero Trail, to the right-angle bend where paved Clinton Keith and Tenaja Roads join. That’s where the east leg of Sylvan Meadows Road intersects. It will take you 0.5 mile north to Torino Trail, and Torino Trail will lead you 0.7 mile to the junction you passed at the beginning, just shy of the visitor center.
This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.
Check out the multi-use trails of Sylvan Meadows, a part of the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve near Temecula.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 73 miles
Hiking/biking length: 5.7 miles